Fresh start for Merseyside pub that’s been serving for 200 years

A historic Merseyside pub is getting a new lease of life under plans for an extensive external repair and restoration.

The Red Lion has been in the heart of Prescot town centre for centuries, living many lifetimes as a pub and more recently as a restaurant.

The building's earliest known mention on record is the late 1700s – before being rebuilt around 100 years later – and the property still exists on Market Place today.

It was recently announced that a £3.1m heritage-led regeneration project will help "breathe new life into the historic heart" of Prescot and see the repair, restoration and conversion of a number of historic building, focusing on the area around Market Place.

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Prescot High Street Heritage Action Zone, delivered by Knowsley Council with the support of Historic England, has already traced back the origins of a number of buildings and spaces, such as the town's first cinema.

Here, we take a look back at the Red Lion on Market Place, from its first mention in early records to its exciting future.

1700s: Red Lion is first mentioned

The name the ‘Red Lion’ is believed to either be taken from the Coat of Arms of John of Gaunt, founder of the House of Lancaster – an appropriate name for a Lancastrian pub – or more likely the union of Scotland, England and Wales following the ascension of James I, whose coat of arms included a Red Lion.

Either origins would suggest a medieval or early modern (post 1600) establishment of the Red Lion.

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The earliest known mention of the Red Lion is its recording in the earliest detailed record of publicans, innkeepers and victualers in Prescot, from 1790.

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It is impossible to know for certain in older records who was landlord or landlady of which pub, as records from the time only list the name of the publican, not the name of their premises or its location.

Therefore, it is highly probable that there was a pub or inn on the site of the Red Lion long before 1790.

1800s: A new building

The Red Lion was owned by Greenall Whitley & Co by the end of the 19th century – a firm which was founded in St Helens in 1762 by Thomas Greenall, originally as Greenall’s.

The brewing and pub concerns owned by the Greenall family and the Whitley branch of the family were merged into a single company, Greenall Whitley & Co, in 1880, bringing together two large breweries in St Helens and Warrington.

The company served much of southwest Lancashire and Cheshire, selling nearly 90,000 barrels of beer in 1882 and owning about 200 pubs – and The Red Lion may well have been one of them.

Pen and ink drawing (artist unknown) of Market Place, Prescot. c.1810

In the 1890s, the Red Lion Inn was demolished by Greenall Whitley & Co and the present pub building was built in its place, with its design, detailing and quality of materials giving the impression that no expense was spared.

The Red Lion appears to have been built with various bar, lounge and dining rooms at ground floor, as well as meeting rooms for clubs and societies at first floor and a manager or caretaker’s flat in the top storey.

Its architecture is believed to be one of the only examples of the Queen Anne Revival style in Prescot, which was popularised in the late 19th century by the architect Norman Shaw.

1900s: Sold and kept as a pub

What appears to be decorative stonework on the building is in fact buff coloured terracotta, a material popular either side of 1900 for its durability and uniform appearance, which was often found on pubs, theatres, music halls and in later years cinemas.

Another original feature includes rows of ornate iron spikes, to stop people sitting on the pub’s windowsills.

Greenall Whitley & Co continued to acquire pubs and breweries throughout the late nineteenth and much of the twentieth century and became one of the country’s largest independent brewers.

Prescot Market Place seen in the late 1800s

But as a result of the 1989 ‘Beer Orders,’ which required the bond to be broken between pubs and brewers, the firm liquidated its 230-year old brewing arm

Greenall Whitley & Co later became an alcohol retailer and kept hold of its over 2,000 pubs, instead of being only a brewers.

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At some point, possibly the late 1990s, the Red Lion was sold to Punch Partnerships Limited and kept on as a tenanted pub.

2000s: From a restaurant to a new future

The Red Lion ceased trading in August 2015. Punch Partnerships later sold the Red Lion to a private owner.

For a time its ground floor was converted to a restaurant, Kingsmen Food, which opened in September 2018 and closed its doors less than a year later.

Through the Heritage Action Zone funded by Historic England and Knowsley Council, there is an opportunity to restore and repair the Red Lion and find a new use for its bar rooms and meeting rooms.

The former Red Lion pub, Market Place, Prescot.

The Heritage Action Zone is a new heritage-led regeneration programme that will run until 2024.

It is focused on the diverse historic buildings around Market Place in the town’s medieval core.

Work has already started and in terms of building grants, two early projects of the High Street Heritage Action Zone are two of its most prominent buildings at either end of Market Place, the former Red Lion pub and the former HSBC bank.

Both buildings will undergo extensive external repair and restoration later this year, with the ground floors converted to uses that will expand the town’s evening economy.

Do you have any more interesting facts about the red Lion in Prescot? Let us know in the comments section.